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Friday, October 22, 2004

Yahoo! News - Foreign Observers See Problems in Election

Yahoo! News - Foreign Observers See Problems in Election: "Foreign Observers See Problems in Election

Thu Oct 21,12:55 PM ET

Add to My Yahoo! Politics - Reuters

By Alan Elsner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Substantial threats to the integrity of the U.S. presidential election remain despite an improvement in election practices since 2000, an international delegation of election observers reported on Thursday.

Reuters Photo

The delegation of 20, including lawyers, diplomats, civic leaders and veteran election monitors from 15 countries, visited five key states last month to review preparations for the Nov. 2 balloting.

They plan to return to Florida, Ohio and Missouri on Election Day, although officials in some counties have so far not agreed to allow them access to polling places and vote counting centers.

'We hope voters in the United States will feel confidence with the presence of international observers and realize they are part of a world community,' said Brigalia Bam, chairperson of South Africa's independent electoral commission.

Australian human rights lawyer Irene Baghoomians urged local election officials in parts of Ohio and south Florida, who have so far failed to allow the delegation access on Election Day, to change their minds.

'We do not see any harm from increased accountability and transparency,' she said.

International interest in the fairness of the U.S. election was fueled by problems that emerged in the bitterly disputed 2000 vote. This delegation was sponsored by Global Exchange, a human rights organization. Several other overseas groups are also planning to send observers to monitor the election.

The group made several recommendations, although it acknowledged that it was probably too late for many of them to be implemented less than two weeks before the election.

It strongly recommended that new electronic touch screen voting machines that have been introduced in many states in the past four years be equipped to produce a voter-verified, recountable paper record.


'Transparency at the polls is critical and cannot be readily established without voter verification,' the report said. 'If such verification is not available, arrangements for independent auditing should be put in place.'

Noting that tests of the machines have produced frequent errors, the delegation said the assumption that newer technology automatically led to more effective voting systems was short-sighted.

It urged that open source computer coding be incorporated in voting machines. At the moment, the source is proprietary and belongs to the companies that make the machines.

The report criticized the fact that U.S. elections are administered by political partisans, saying that it fell short of international norms.

In Missouri, secretary of state Matt Blunt is Republican candidate for governor and will have to certify his own election if he wins. In Ohio, Republican secretary of state J. Kenneth Blackwell has made crucial decisions on voter registration which may affect his political future and ambitions to run for higher office.

In 2000, Florida's then-secretary of state Katherine Harris played a key role in the dispute that ultimately led to the election of George W. Bush as president. She herself was elected to Congress as a Republican two years later.

Other concerns raised by the report included inadequate training of poll workers, who sometimes only received one hour of instruction every three years regardless of changes to the election laws.

The delegation condemned the disenfranchisement of an estimated 4.7 million ex-felons which it said fell short of international standards."

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